Out of Gloucester


Monday, January 15, 1951

Fear Dragger Gudrun Lost With Crew of 17
No Word Since SOS Flash Early Sunday Morning
Craft Reported Herself Sinking South of Newfoundland
Rescue Boats and Planes Search Area in Vain
No Further Reports up to Noon

Gloucester Men Aboard

Harry W. O’Connell, Jr. 28 years, married
Alphonse Sutherland, 51 years, married, nine children
Wilfred J. Mello, 36 years, married, two sons
August E. Hill, 45 years, married, one son
Daniel Williams, 40 years, married, two stepdaughters
James J. Cavanaugh, 45, married, five children

Others believed to be Crew Members

Capt. Johan Axel Johannsson, 46, West Medford, owner-master, married two children
Matthew L. Whalen, 46 years, mate, Somerville, married, 11 children
Daniel Meagher, 42 years, first engineer, Saugus, married, two children
Albert Moulden, 63 years, second engineer, Sharon, married
Frank B. Nickerson, 49 years, Braintree, married, one child
John Johnson, 68 years, Boston
John Kozlowski, 62 years, Tolland, Conn.

Three others believed aboard but whose identity could not be ascertained.

Fears for the safety of the 17-man crew including seven Gloucester fishermen, aboard the 114-foot steel beam trawler Gudrun, missing on storm-swept Grand bank since early yesterday morning, were heightened hourly when up to this noon, an extensive air-sea rescue party had failed to contact the craft or any sign of it and the crew.

Last contact made with the Gudrun was at 3.24 o’clock yesterday morning when her owner-skipper Capt. Johan Axel Johannsson, 46 years, of West Medford, sent out a frantic "SOS" to the effect that "We are sinking" and then gave his position as being some 200 miles south of Cape Race, N. F.

All seven Gloucester members are married and have a total of 19 children. In the entire known crew, 12 are married and have a total of 35 children.

Once the distress message was picked up by New York Coast Guard diversion headquarters and relayed to Boston Coast Guard division, one of the most elaborate searching parties was dispatched as fast as possible to the scene. This flotilla included three large planes, and seven surface craft led by the New York bound trans-Atlantic liner Mauretania. The flotilla searched through the night and continued today, with Nova Scotian fishing craft, sch. Isabel F. Spindler, Jean Francis, and the Blue Spray among them. Two Coast Guard cutters, the Casco and the Coos Bay, joined in the search this morning along with two PBY planes of the United States based at Argentia, N. F. Coast Guard at Boston this noon said no word had come from any of the rescue craft as having sighted the distressed craft or her crew.

The Gudrun, formerly the Boston beam trawler Boston College and built at Bath, Me., in 1928, was renamed for Capt. Johannsson’s daughter. The craft was on a trip to Grand Bank for dabs for Gorton-Pew Fisheries Co. Ltd. Of this city. It is surmised she was laden with dabs and was homeward bound at the time.

The Gudrun with owner-skipper Capt. Johannsson in command, sailed from the State Fish pier, this city, on Wednesday, January 3, bound for Grand Bank, some 1,000 miles distant, on her second flounder trip. It was the Gudrun which on a 17-day trip arrived in Gloucester, Monday, November 20, 1950, with the phenomenal fare of some 240,000 dabs, which they had caught off Grand Bank in a spot they had discovered. They reported the spot was teeming with dabs, fathoms thick. Gorton-Pew Fisheries Co. bought the trip. The Gudrun afterward made a groundfish trip and was out over Christmas, arriving at Boston Fish pier on Thursday, December 28, 1950, with another large fare, including 236,000 pounds fresh fish among which were 1100,000 pounds dabs.

The present voyage was her third trip to the dabs site. Three of her former crew remained ashore, and it is not known whether she went with a full complement of 17 men, a regular beam trawl crew or not. She at least had 15 men aboard including the seven Gloucester men. If there were 17, the three replacements came from around Greater Boston.

It is believed that the Gudrun must have filled her hold with dabs, an estimated 300,000 pounds, and was on the way home, when she was stricken early yesterday morning. The coast Guard at Boston was apprised by Newfoundland authorities, that a severe snowstorm was brewing in the area and that ships in the vicinity had reported winds as high as 50 miles an hour by dawn, a fact that indicated the seas were abnormally high.

The only word received from the Gudrun was a terse radio message received by the Boston Coast Guard via New York Coast Guard division headquarters that gave the ill-omened message. "We are sinking," and of course the usual advice as to position of the craft.

The Gudrun gave her position as being in longitude 33 degrees, 45 minutes, and latitude 42 degrees, 38 minutes. According to the Coast Guard, that would have placed her at some 200 miles south of Cape Race, Newfoundland. That message was received at Boston at 3.24 o’clock yesterday morning.

Within minutes, one of the most extensive searching flotillas by air and sea was organized and directed toward the position given. Two PBY planes, United States craft, were dispatched about 8 o’clock yesterday morning from their base at Argentia, N. F. Canadian authorities sent a Lancaster plane, a large ship out from Halifax, N. S. The three planes were over the area by noon but spotted nothing according to report. It is believed they were hampered by increasingly thickening weather that cut off their chances to scour the surface.

At the same time, the Navy re-directed two of its destroyers, the Larson and the Power, cruising in that area to the scene. The Coast Guard cutter Casco on weather duty in the section of the North Atlantic, was detailed to go under forced draught. The passenger liner Mauretania inbound from Europe deviated from her regular course, when apprised of the "SOS" and made all speed at 20 knots to reach the area. Two Nova Scotian fishing craft, the Franchi and the Spindrer, also aided in the search, as did the American freighter, SS American Planter, which left her morning at St. John’s, N. F. early yesterday to speed to the scene.

Gloucester is deeply affected by the fact the craft is still missing. Hopes are held forth even now that the crew members may be picked up by passing craft. It is known that the Gudrun had two large life boats, one a large life raft equipped with rations and water, which could normally have been launched in a matter of seconds. No details are known as to how long Capt. Johannsson and his crew fought to save their vessel from sinking before the skipper was forced to send out the distress call. If they did manage to escape from the sinking craft they would be a long hard pull to shore at least 200 miles through North Atlantic winter weather to reach safety unless they are successful in crossing the path of another vessel en route to Newfoundland or the Maritime provinces.

Coast Guard at Boston revealed that one of the destroyers at the scene reported to have sighted planking, floating in the sea, but whether or not the planks were part of the Gudrun could not be ascertained. The Gudrun is painted black with a white pilot house aft, a yellow stack and two gray masts.

The three Gloucester-men who had been crew members of the boat but who stayed home this trip are Russell C. Arsenault and Arthur L. Arsenault, brothers, and Clarence Simpson. Simpson was aboard on the Christmas trip and left when he thought the settlement was too low. They has some 240,000 pounds on board, including the dabs, and for some reason or other, he said they were only paid for the dabs, which left the crew with a $126 gross share, for the 17-day trip. He decided to change over to another craft, and is now with the local dragger Mary F. Curtis.

Arthur Arsenault said he took off the Christmas trip because he wanted to be ashore for the holiday. He was due to go this present trip and was at the Fish pier when she sailed. "Call it a hunch or what you will," he said. "But I just didn’t go with her." His brother, Russell, was with him at the Fish Pier but neither did Russell go aboard.

It was a sorry day throughout Gloucester yesterday when news of the craft being missing became widespread by noon. In the homes of the seven families, most gravely affected, it was especially grim as hours passed without any encouraging report. Delegate Alphonsus J. Hayes of Atlantic Fishermen’s union here was to be notified to help spread the message. No news came. Throughout last night, the vigil continued. Another check with the Coast Guard at 8 o’clock this morning, brought forth the same hopeless report, "No news."

Of the Gloucester men aboard, all seven are married. Sutherland has nine children as follows. Raymond, 36 years, Gertrude, 24, Thomas, 22 years, now in Europe in the United States Army, and Vincent, 30 years, now in the Army in New Jersey, John, 18 years, Jerry, 16, Carol, 14, Marion, 11, Ellen 8 years. James Cavanaugh has five children, John 22 years, Agnes 17, Shirley 16, James Jr. 15, and Dennis 14. Hill has one son, Fred 14. Mello has two children, David 8 years and Paul 7. Williams has two step-daughters. Capt. Johannsson has two children, Gudrun, 5 years and Maria, 12 years.

The Gudrun was originally the Boston beam trawler Boston College, one of the college fleet owned by the Atlantic and Pacific Fish Co. of Boston. She was built at Bath, Me., in 1928 and sailed from Boston until the Navy bought her in the early part of World War II. The Navy converted her into a mine sweeper and deployed the ship to the Iceland patrol for the duration.

Capt. Johannsson, who had made a great name for himself as a highline skipper when he had commanded of the Boston beam trawler Notre Dame before the war, had later gone as skipper of the beam trawler Lark and more recently in the southern-owned big dragger M. C. Ballard. Then he decided he wanted a vessel with more hold capacity than the Ballard possessed so five years ago when the College was up for sale by the Navy he secured her and brought her to the Beacon Marine Basin in this port for a complete alteration job. He renamed her the Gudrun in honor of his younger daughter and went as the skipper. Gorton-Pew Fisheries Co. had her go fishing for them and this latest trip was made to secure dabs for the local firm.

The Gudrun was 241 gross tonnage, 114 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 11 feet deep, and is said to be powered with a total of 1200 horsepower, General Motors engines. She originally had 500 horsepower.

The incident of the Gudrun recalled only too grimly to mind the fate of the Boston beam trawler Belle on January 8, 1947 when she sailed with a crew of 17 Boston men aboard and was never heard from afterward. The Belle was somewhere off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia at the time, insofar as could be ascertained.

Monday, January 2, 1951

Coast Guard Abandons Dragger Gudrun Search

No Trace of Missing Boat, Men
Large Flotilla of Planes and Surface Craft Had Scoured Thousands of Square Miles in Grand Bank Area For Six Days

The United States Coast Guard which spear-headed a most extensive search by sea and air for six days for the missing Gloucester beam trawler Gudrun and her crew of 17 men, announced today that the search was officially called off early Saturday. At the height of the search, 17 planes including navy and coast guard, as well as a flotilla of 15 surface craft, coast guard, navy and private fishing boats, had traversed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic in the Grand Bank area. They never found a trace of the missing 114-foot steel craft or the men.

The Gudrun which left Gloucester on Wednesday, January 3, for a trip of dabs for Gorton-Pew Fisheries Co. LTD,. Radioed at 3.24 o’clock Sunday morning, January 14th, the terse but grim message, "We are sinking" and followed with her position, as being some 180 miles south of Cape Race, Nfld.

Aboard were Capt. Johann Axel Johannsson of West Medford and a crew of 16 men including seven Gloucester men. Twelve of the crew are known to be married and they have a total of 35 children. All seven Gloucester members are married and have 19 children

Whatever happened is still a mystery for no indication has ever been given as to what transpired through that night, or what fate was met by the vessel and her men.

All that was humanly possible to do was done to locate the missing craft and crew. The Coast Guard and Navy deserve the gratitude of all concerned in the great effort they made last week in the search under most trying weather and winter sea conditions.


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